Stay Organic: 7 Homemade and Natural Insecticides for Your Garden
All gardeners have had this experience. Your garden is lush and beautiful. All the work you did to make sure the soil was healthy and nutrient-rich seems to be giving you the dream garden we all strive for. Your plants are growing well, and the first harvest is coming soon. It is gratifying and exciting. Then, you walk out to the garden one morning and find holes in your cabbage leaves or leaves that are almost eaten away on your tomato plants. You know that you have predatory insects, and you need to act fast before they destroy your garden plants. But you want an organic garden. You planted organic seeds and amended the soil organically. You need an organic solution.
As you gain experience in your garden, you will learn which bad insects are your main problem and when you can expect to see them. You may have other insect pests, but they usually do not cause much damage. This knowledge can help you prepare for trouble before it arrives. Always try to use organic methods. Part of the reason for growing our own food is that the gardener can control the amount of chemicals used to produce that food.
The goal should be to use as small an amount of chemical products as possible. You don’t have to kill every single bug–only keep your bugs to a manageable level. Keep in mind that any product you use on your plants will potentially affect all bugs that come to your plant, including the beneficial bugs.
Healthy and vigorous plants are less susceptible to insect damage. Healthy plants can tolerate a light insect load and will recover more quickly from any damage that does occur. The bugs seem to attack the weaker plants first, giving you time to set up your defense against them.
Start your insect control with companion planting. High amounts of scent produced by some plants can ward off predaceous insects. Plants like lavender or lemongrass don’t smell good to many insects. Marigolds and nasturtiums have been used as companion plants in the vegetable garden for decades. The old-fashioned flower 4 O’Clocks seem to attract Japanese beetles and then kill them. Many insects dislike the smell of garlic or onions. Use them as a companion plant. Another solution is to use barrier cloth from your handy garden supplies to prevent the insects from reaching your plants.
Hand picking the bad bugs will also work to control the number of bugs eating in your garden. The problem is it is a tedious and time-consuming job, but no chemicals need to touch your plants. Simply take a cup containing water mixed with a little liquid dish soap and knock the bug into the water to die. This is especially effective if you have Japanese beetles. Hand pick early in the morning when the beetles are still pretty inactive. As the day warms up, the beetles will fly away to avoid capture.
When the methods above don’t seem to be enough, it is time to use other higher levels of insect control. Here are some suggestions for organic and homemade remedies for your bug problem.
1. Soap Spray. A simple soap spray is easy to make and simply spray on the affected plant. Mix one to two teaspoons of liquid soap into a quart of water. Shake it up to mix well and apply to plants. Soap spray works well on aphids, mites and white flies as well as other insects.
2. Vegetable Oil Spray. This works much the same as the soap spray. Mix a cup of vegetable oil with a tablespoon of liquid soap. When ready to spray, mix two teaspoons in a quart of water.
3. Neem Oil. Neem oil is extracted from the seeds of a neem tree. Neem oil is effective against many different chewing or sucking insects. It is biodegradable and safe around your pets. Neem oil kills insects in all stages of their development–egg, larvae and adult. Neem oil can be used as a preventative if you spray before you see bug damage.
4. Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt). Bt is a naturally occurring soil-borne bacteria that first became available to gardeners in the 1950s. This product affects the stomach of the insect and is especially effective against the cabbage looper in the garden. Bt has been looked at lately after it was added by Monsanto to their GMO corn. They used a different version of Bt than the gardeners use, and it has already become ineffective.
5. Diatomaceous Earth (DE). Many people recognize this product as something we use in pool filters, but it can also help in the garden. DE is a natural substance found in the earth in plentiful supply. It has an abrasiveness that damages an insect’s exoskeleton, which will kill it. DE is especially effective against slugs and snails. Simply sprinkle DE on the soil surrounding the plants or even on the leaves of the plant. It will need to be reapplied after a rain.
6. Hot Pepper Spray. Lots of people like to use chili pepper spray to protect their plants. It is easy to make by just mixing chili pepper in a quart of water. Add a little liquid soap to help the mixture adhere to the plant surface. Besides insects, this mixture can be effective against hungry rabbits. Remember that the chili pepper can also affect humans. If you handle the plants that you sprayed, wear gloves.
7. Tomato Leaf Spray. This homemade spray is effective against aphids. Simply soak two cups of tomato leaves in two cups of water overnight. Strain the liquid from the leaves and add two more cups of water. Spray on infected plants.
There are a lot of other homemade products that you can try. The main thing is to respect the chemicals–even homemade ones. Wear gloves when applying and store safely where children can’t reach. Wash any vegetables before you use them, especially after spraying.
Start by applying a small amount on an affected plant. This will indicate if the spray is effective against the pest you are trying to eliminate and also will assure you that the plant can tolerate the mixture. If the pest is eradicated and the host plant is unharmed, then go ahead and use it on the remaining infected plants.